Consumer Electronics Show (January – Las Vegas USA) Archive

Consumer Electronics Show 2014–Part 3 (Wearables, Home Automation and the Open Road)

This final instalment of my coverage of the Consumer Electronics Show will be focusing on some areas that have had high media coverage. This are the connected wearable devices that work with our smartphones, the connected home along with car-based technologies. The latter two are underscoring the idea that the online life is more than the home office or living room but more pervasive.

Connected Wearable Devices

The arrival of hardware and operating-system support for Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy for smartphones, tablets and laptops has opened up a flood of connected devices that we can wear.

This is primarily in the form of the smartwatch which is today’s connected iteration of the “nerdy” digital watch of the late 70s and early 80s. Some companies like Archos have started to join the smartwatch party by offering one that implements the e-paper display technology for US$85. This is while Samsung and Pebble came forth with newer smartwatch models.

Rather than have a smartwatch like the Galaxy Gear, Casio has gone down the path of premiering a Bluetooth-connected sports watch. Here, this one-time king of digital watches implemented a regular sports-watch design which uses a Bluetooth link to work with a fitness app and support a notification display on the watch. Another company also fielded a Bluetooth-linked notification watch that is equipped with an analogue dial, something that could come about for targeting the “dress watch” segment.

A similar device that is covering an increased amount of floor space is the “fitness band” which is a connected bracelet or wristband that measures physical activity and reports it to your smartphone or other computing device. They have been brought on by the success of the Nike FuelBand which provides this functionality when in use with the Apple iPhone.

LG even has developed the Lifeband Touch which is a hybrid device that serves as a  fitness band or a discreet smartwatch that works as an external display for your phone, courtesy of its touch-enabled OLED display. Herem the Lifeband uses sensors in the form of a 3-axis accelerometer and an altimeter. Razer also premiered the Nabu which is another of these fitness bands that double as a smartwatch.

Archos and Samsung have joined the fitness band party with the latter calling theirs the Galaxy Band to fit in with their Galaxy online lifestyle devices. Garmin even came forth with the Vivofit fitness band that is more about reminding us to be active rather than tracking actual activity. Pulsense even worked on a fitness band that also can “see through” skin to measure heartrate without the need for other awkward sensor requirements.

Sony Smart Band - Sony press image

Sony Smart Band – an example of the many connected wearables surfacing this year.

Sony has taken another path through the use of a “Core” wearable device that works with different accessories and works on what they call “Emotion” rather than activity.

Other sports and fitness applications that are being drawn out include a Bluetooth-connected basketball with its own motion sensors to measure basketball technique, LG’s in-ear headset that tracks heartrate, a connected headband with integrated speaker, a heart-rate monitor for swimming goggles along with a brain-sensing EEG headband for games with exercise and an impact monitor for sports injuries.

Eyewear is also becoming an important “connected-wearable” device class thanks to Google Glass with its “augmented reality” function. Epson have answered Google by offering an Android-based augmented-reality glasses system in the form of the Moverio BT-200.

Even the concept of making jewellery connected has not escaped a British chip-maker’s mind. Here, CSR who are known for the Bluetooth aptX audio codec for Bluetooth applications have released proof-of-concept designs where a Bluetooth Smart chipset can be integrated in to jewellery to give it software-driven notification abilities.

But from what I see, I would find that the smartwatches and the fitness bands, especially those that have smartwatch functionality would be the more credible class of connected wearable devices. Similarly, devices for personal healthcare monitoring may earn some credibility with fitness enthusiasts, sports people and those of us who are managing chronic illnesses.

Internet Of Things and the connected home

This year’s CES is showing that this trade fair could follow the same path as the Internationaler Funkaustellung where small and large household appliances acquire show floor space alongside consumer electronics and personal computing. This is being underscored by the “Internet Of Things” and the desire to see the “connected home” come to fruition in the name of energy efficiency, security and convenience.

Samsung and LG have been using their stands to premiere their advanced whitegoods which interlink with their communications and AV equipment in their product portfolios, using these devices as an extra control or monitoring point.

Of course, this is being underscored by the various home devices being connected to your home network via Wi-Fi and working on the “app-cessory” model where you install controller apps on your smartphone. This has been underscored heavily with a lot of LED-based “app-cessory” lightbulbs that are being marketed in the US due to that market moving away from the classic incandescent bulb towards more efficient lighting and the LED lighting can allow for highly-controllable lights that can change colour at the flick of a switch.

Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot slow-cooker - Belkin press image

Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot slow-cooker – an example of the app-cessory appliances surfacing this year

Belkin had shown more of their “Wemo” smartphone-based home-automation subsystem and added LED lightbulbs to this equation. They also partnered with Sunbeam Appliances to premiere a Wemo-enabled Crock-Pot slow cooker that can be managed from your smartphone. As well, they have the Wemo Maker which is a sensor or controller that links garage doors, sprinkler systems and the like in to the Wemo ecosystem.

The Lowe’s hardware-store chain have launched extras for their IRIS home-automation system with leak-detecting smart-shutoff valves, a sprinkler-control system, a garage-door controller, a voice-command interface along with smart-grid compatibility. This latest feature can allow for integration with off-peak tariffs or load-shedding practices that the grid may use.

Things were relatively quiet when it came to the “smart-lock” devices with two such devices being premiered as credible products. One of these was the Okidokeys smart-lock retrofit kit that adds NFC smartphone, touch-card and key-fob functionality to an existing tubular deadbolt. This kit has been based on Openways smartphone-enabled hotel room locks and has been pitched as a “wide-reaching” device while maintaining the user’s existing key as an entry path. Another deadbolt offered by Goji implements an integrated outside display, an integrated camera and implements Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology.

ADT who are well-known for service-based monitored security have joined in to the connected-home scene while keeping their service-driven business model alive. They have fielded the Pulse home security package which adds voice commands via a smartphone app along with the Canopy smartphone app which offers protection on the go. They also offered extra hardware in the form of remote controls for garage door openers and ceiling fans, along with a touchscreen controller for their alarm systems.

They are still underscoring the serviced-security model even by extending this to your computer and home network by partnering with McAfee Security (now Intel Security) for a home data-security solution. As well, they are working with Ford to provide dashboard integration for your monitored-security solution using the Sync technology that Ford offers.

Technology on the open road

This year, the Consumer Electronics Show has also been been a chance for vehicle builders to show the latest online technology for their vehicles.

Google and Apple have made steps to integrate their mobile operating systems in to motor vehicles and are partnering with vehicle builders to further this integration. For example, Google partnered with Audi to build an Android-driven infotainment system for the car and underscored this with a 10.1” Android tablet that docks in to the centre console of various new-issue Audis to become a display and control surface in that vehicle.This is while Apple had support from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, General Motors and Honda for iOS integration.

GM are underscoring this with some Chevrolet vehicles being equipped with 4G LTE mobile broadband as well as the creation of the OnStar AppShop where you can add extra functionality through apps. They even offered a telemetry recorder app for use with the Corvette Stingray.

Even the chipmakers are cashing in on the connected car with Qualcomm pitching the 602a connected-car CPU while NVIDIA offered a variant of their Tegra K1 for automotive use.

Advanced vehicle techologies were being pitches at this show such as Toyota presenting a concept vehicle that is powered by a fuel cell. As well, Ford integrated a solar panel in to the roof of their C-Max Energi Concept electric car which allows the vehicle to charge itself from that panel to add extra driving range. BMW even put up the idea of a parallel-parking “auto-pilot” for their i3 electric car where you can press a button to start your vehicle parking itself in that shopping-centre car park.

The aftermarket car infotainment scene is still kicking along with Alpine offering the X009 9” navigation receiver that fits in the dashboard of trucks and 4WDs and interlinks with smartphones including having MHL support for the Android phone. JVC also is supplying a double-DIN car stereo with MHL connectivity, touchscreen while app-link functionality and Siri Eyes Free is also appearing on cheaper JVC head units. Pioneer are even offering car AV equipment that “doesn’t miss your smartphone” by offering various methods of connectivity such as AVICSync, MirrorLink and AppRadio.

Sony has also gone about this in a different way. Here, they have a double-DIN CD receiver which works as a smartphone dock. Here, your Android smartphone can be set up with NFC paring and, with a companion app, becomes the control surface for the car stereo.

Conclusion

What I see of the Consumer Electronics Show this year is a strong foothold for connected wearable devices, increased presence by vehicle builders at the show, a blending of computer classes that aren’t really delineated by operating system or display size along with a make or break for 4K ultra-high-definition TV.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2014–Part 2 (Your computer, smartphone, tablet and network)

The second part of this series is about computing devices both for desktop use and for mobile use in all of the form factors along with the new equipment that you can use to buid out our home or other small network.

Computers and Mobile Devices

Previously, I used to see mobile computing devices like tablets and smartphones as their own device class but the situation is changing for this class of device.

This has been brought on with use of Windows 8.1 in smaller tablets that have lightweight and low-energy processors that implement the orthodox Intel microarchitecture used in regular-computers along with these regular computer products running the Android mobile operating system as a standalone operating system or in a dual-boot configuration.

This has caused us to blur the lines between the orthodox “regular” desktop or laptop computer that uses IA-32 or IA-64 microarchitecture rather than ARM RISC microarchitecture and running a desktop operating system like Windows or desktop Linux; and the primarily-battery-operated mobile computers like the smartphones and tablets that use ARM RISC microarchitecture and  use a mobile operating system like Android.

Computer devices that boot between Windows 8.1 and Android

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

This class of computer may be either running Windows or Android very soon

Intel and AMD have established computer reference designs that allow for switching between Windows 8.1 or Android 4.4 operating systems even when they are fully operational. This is to capitalise on the 7”-10” tablets appearing on the market that are running Windows 8.1 along with the desire for us to run Android programs on our regular laptops and Ultrabooks.

A clear example of this is ASUS’s Transformer Book Duet detachable tablet which has a hardware switch that allows you to switch between Windows 8.1 and Android. Think of this – on a long journey, switch to Windows to make some headway on a document you are creating with Microsoft Word, then, to while the time away on that journey after that, switch to Android to play Plants Versus Zombies, Candy Crush Saga or whatever is the latest mobile time-waster game.

Android and Chrome OS gain a foothold on the regular computer

Previously, we thought of Windows as the only open-frame operating system that runs on a “regular computer” i.e. a desktop or laptop. Now Google have pushed forward Chrome OS which is a cloud-based operating system along with Android with these kind of computers.

Nearly every laptop vendor, save for Sony, Panasonic and a few others are putting forward at least one “Chromebook” which are notebooks that run the Chrome OS environment. LG even premiered a “Chromebase” which is an all-in-one desktop computer that runs the Google Chrome OS. This implements Intel Celeron horsepower along with the Chrome OS specification for RAM and secondary storage (2Gb RAM, 16Gb SSD). These may have limited appeal due to software only available through Google and an always-online operation and may just work as Web terminals.

For Android, HP put up the Slate 21 Pro 21” tablet that runs on this operating system thus bringing the adaptive all-in-one to this operating system especially in the workplace. Similarly, Lenovo had launched a 19” all-in-one PC that runs Android and has an appealing price of US$450 along with the ThinkVision 28 which is a 28” 4K monitor that is an Android all-in-one PC. This is alongside HP also running with a Slate Pro all-in-one that runs Android and appeals to the business. Some of these computers are being pitched as inexpensive kiosk computers or communications terminals that go hand in glove with Viber, Skype, Facebook and the like.

Business-grade computing appears at CES 2014

Not often have I seen any of the Consumer Electronics Shows or similar consumer-electronics trade fairs become a platform to launch computer hardware pitched at business users. This year, HP, Lenovo and a few others are launching smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops pitch at this user class with the expected features like security, management abilities and system durability.

Could this be a sign that “business-targeted” computing trade fairs like CEBit and Interop start to focus on a narrower class of “big-business” computing equipment like large-scale servers and networking equipment while small-business office and computing equipment ends up being exhibited at consumer-focused computing and electronics trade fairs? Or could this be answering a reality where business computing equipment are working also as home computing equipment as in the typical “work-home” laptop that is used for personal and business computing tasks? As well, could this be in response to the so-called “BYOD” trend where employees are buying their own devices, perhaps with their employer subsidising the purchase and running costs of these devices, and using them at work?

This is augmented with Samsung, Lenovo and HP launching business-grade tablets and smartphones and operating environments that cater to the business’s operating needs.

HP even used this show to launch the 300 series 14” and 15” laptops that have hardware credentials for a business laptop like spill-resistant keyboards, anti-glare displays and fingerprint readers but don’t come with business-tier manageability software. These machines start from US$399 upwards. This is more about offering appropriate computer hardware for small businesses and community organisations at a price they can afford without the hard-to-understand “big-business” security and manageability software that can daunt operators who are effectively their organisation’s “chief cook and bottle-washer”.

They also released the Pro One 400 and HP205 all-in-one desktops and issued the second generation of the Z1 all-in-one desktop workstation which can he shoehorned as you see fit.

Newer hardware technologies

One key hardware technology that is being put forward is the arrival of highly-powerful ARM-based chips that are pitched for mobile computing. One trend has been the arrival of the 64-bit ARM mobile processor which was augmented by Samsung with their Exynos range. The other was NVIDIA who were putting up the Tegra K1 processor family that had 192 cores and the VCM variant being targeted at vehicle applications. The graphics capacity is about achieving smooth realistic rendering which comes in thandy for games and similar graphics-intensive applications that will be expected of the Android platform. This is an example of a high-power ARM processor that is being pitched across the board not just for the tablets but for the Android-driven computers, the smart TVs as well as the cars.

Similarly, Intel premiered the Edison microcomputer which is the same size as the standard SD memory card. This has a two-core microprocessor with a 400MHz primary core and a 50-200MHz secondary core along with 500Mb RAM and integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interfaces. Here, they are pitching it at wearable application such as smartwatches but I would see a greater potential for this application.

As for memory, the magnetoresistive RAM and resistive RAM technologies have been premiered at this show. It s a non-volatile RAM technology that can lead to the creation of memory that isn’t just for primary on-hand storage or secondary long-term storage. The obvious applications that are being called include quick-start portable computers that don’t need to store their current state to secondary storage. But I see this likely to appear in devices like printers and faxes for power-safe job-queue handling.

As well, the IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless-network technology is appearing in a lot more as a client interface in this newly-released equipment. There has to be work on making sure that there are options for reduced-battery-load for smartphones and small tablets that are primarily battery-operated and these may stay on N technology at the moment.

Smartphones and Tablets

One major trend for smartphones and tablets is for the market to be full of affordable Android devices especially those that are positioned at the “value” segment where you gain best bang for your buck. Similarly, a lot more of these devices are being pitched at the business user with the necessary manageability features appearing.

Samsung have launched the Galaxy Note Pro range of Android tablets with some of these at 12”. Similarly, we are seeing Lenovo run a range of smartphones like the Vibe Z phablet along with a smartphone that has an 802.11ac wireless-network interface. They are even running an 8” business-grade tablet known as the ThinkPad 8 which runs Windows 8.1 and has Intel Bay Trail small-device horsepower.

Asus have previously run their Padfone range of smartphones which dock in to an accompanying tablet and are furthering this with the Padfone Mini 7 “coat-pocket” tablet / smartphone combo. They are also running the Zenfone range of standalone Android smartphones.They also premiered the VivoTAB Note 8 which is an 8” coat-pocket tablet with stylus that runs Win8.1 and uses Intel Atom horsepower.

Acer are even launching some more of the Iconia Windows and Android tablet range along with a budget-range phablet smartphone. At the same time, Polaroid have put their name to an affordable 8” Android tablet in the form of the Q8.

Panasonic is not left lying down when it comes to tablets with a ToughPad 7” tablet being premiered at this show.

Laptops, Ultrabooks and similar computers

This year has seen a great influx of detachable and convertible Ultrabooks with, for example HP bolstering their x2 family.This is brought in to affordable territory with the Pavilion x2 range being a “foot-in-the-door” and running on cheaper AMD or Intel Bay Trail horsepower. This is augmented with the Pro x2 which is pitched at business users and is powered by Intel Core i3 or i5 processors.

Lenovo have premiered their MIIX 2 detachable tablets which run Windows 8.1 with the 10” variant running an Intel Atom processor and the 11.6” variant running an Intel Core i5 processor. They also launched the latest iteration of the X1 Carbon Ultrabook which is finished in a carbon-fibre material.

LG has answered the slider convertible trend started with the Sony VAIO Duo 11 and released the Tab Book 2 slider convertible. Sony are still keeping on with their convertible notebooks with the new VAIO Fit 11a and Flip PC 13, 14 and 15 convertible notebooks and the latest iteration of the VAIO Duo 13 slider convertible along with the VAIO Tap 11 detachable tablet. Sony has also taken the time to refresh the VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one and sell it as the VAIO Tap 21.

Samsung have released the ATIV Book 9 which is a 15” Ultrabook that owes its small size to a very narrow screen bezel, making it look less like a regular 15” laptop. Toshiba has broken through the mould by offering the first laptop with a 4K resolution screen as well as a shape-shifting concept for a convertible portable computer.

The home or other small network

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has become a time to show that 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking has matured ant to premiere the HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit powerline network technology. It also has been a chance for network hardware vendors to showcase some of the small business / contractor network hardware alongside consumer network hardware so as to expose this kind of hardware to the small-business and startup users.

802.11ac wireless network hardware

One major trend that is affecting equipment for the small network is the increased availability of 802.11ac Wi-Fi network connectivity equipment, especially now that the standard has been officially ratified and published by the IEEE. Here we are dealing with Wi-Fi wireless-network segments established in the 5GHz band and capable of operating at Gigabit speeds. Broadcom have come up with newer 802.11ac chipsets that improve wireless-network experience including one that has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and improved radio amplification in the same packaging.

The main class of devices offered here are routers or range extenders where some of the range extenders can work as client bridges for these networks. Examples of these include TrendNet’s newer AC1900 router and the ASUS RT-AC87U broadband router that has 1.7Gbps on 5GHz and 600Mbps on 2.4GHz using 4 x 4 MIMO and support for multiuser MIMO functionality. The old Linksys WRT54G with its distinctive style and user-evolvable open-source firmware has been released as a new iteration but equipped with 802.11ac wireless and Gigabit Ethernet network abilities and USB connectivity.

Even Engenius offered the ESR-2300 which is a 4 x 4 AC2300 wireless broadband router that is the first device of its type to offer “box-to-box” VPN endpoint functionality. NETGEAR also offered DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem routers with one of these having an 802.11ac 1700 wireless network segment.

Netgear’s latest 802.11ac wireless routers also have a firmware option for small businesses to turn their premises in to Wi-Fi hotspots using the Facebook Wi-Fi service. This is where clients who have Facebook presence can “check in” using Facebook to gain free Wi-Fi access but there is also an option to skip this requirement and use password-protected sign-up.

There are also the range extenders that perform their range-extending trick on an 802.11ac network and are available as wall-plugged or standalone units.

TrendNet amongst a few others are premiering business / contractor-grade wireless-networking hardware, especially access points for integrated installation. Some of these units also work with management software to allow you to have control over your Wi-Fi segment. TP-Link even offer the EAP-320 dual-band AC1750 Wi-Fi access point (enterprise grade) which has Power-Over-Ethernet, hotspot-style captive portal authentication and rogue access-point detection.

TrendNet also used this show to premiere a USB-connected high-gain 802.11ac wireless network adaptor so you can bridge existing computer equipment to a new 802.11ac wireless-network segment.

HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit power-line network hardware launched

This show also has seen TP-Link and TrendNet launch HomePlug adaptors that embody the latest iteration of the HomePlug AV2 specification. Initially there were plenty of the HomePlug AV2 devices that didn’t exploit the MIMO abilities of the specification allowing for Gigabit data-transfer speeds but the two latest devices do implement these speeds using all three AC wires.

As far as this standard is concerned, there haven’t been any other HomePlug AV2 devices in other form factors launched or premiered at this show. Of course, TrendNet and TP-Link have been able to premiere HomePlug AV500 Wi-Fi N300 access points as an alternative to using range extenders to build out 802.11n wireless-network segments.

IP-based video surveillance

Most of these manufacturers are offering IP-based video-surveillance cameras with some that even work on 802.11ac Wi-Fi. D-Link even issues one of these as a “baby monitor camera” which measures room temperature and plays soothing lullabies while TP-Link offers an N300 Wi-Fi cloud camera that also doubles as a range extender and can shoot at 720p.

D-Link and Buffalo both offer network video recorder devices that interlink with certain IP cameras and record on a stand-alone basis with these cameras.

NAS units

QNAP and Synology have used the Consumer Electronics Shows to premiere their small-business network-attached storage devices and Synology has used this year’s show to launch the DiskStation Manager 5 operating system which is their latest iteration of the Linux-based operating system. This one has both home and business capabilities like the ability to link with online storage and social-network services along with centralised management and scaled-out storage for evolving businesses. Now Thecus are using this year’s show to premiere their small-business NAS devices.

Lenovo also made this show the chance to offer their first consumer network-attached storage device which can also serve as a USB external hard disk or show multimedia on TV using its HDMI output. This is although they have taken over Iomega and rebranded it as Lenovo EMC to cover this product class and focus on small-business NAS units.

Buffalo even offers a wireless mobile NAS which has the DLNA media-server functionality which can come in handy with Internet radios or other DLNA-capable media players. This is alongside some increasingly-capable DiskStation single-disk and duel-disk NAS units.

Conclusion

Next I will be looking at a major trend that is captivating the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 in the form of the “wearables”, brought on by the arrival of Bluetooth 4.0

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Consumer Electronics Show 2014–Part 1 (Home Entertainment)

I am reporting about this year’s Consumer Electronics Show which was held in Las Vegas and is effectively becoming a trend-setting show when it comes to the online lifestyle. This will be spread over a few parts so as to capture the main trends with the first part covering home entertainment.

Televisions

Every consumer-electronics trade fair always touches on technologies to do with televisions and video-based entertainment with two key trends affecting this class of product.

4K Ultra-High-Definition TV

4K UHDTV - Sony press image

4K UHDTV – The symbol of the Consumer Electronics Show 2014

This year is being seen as a make-or-break year for the 4K ultra-high-definition technology what with screen sizes starting at 49” and reaching to 110” in some quarters. But do most of us have the wall-space in our living rooms to accommodate a 110” TV screen?

We are also seeing a few manufacturers, namely Samsung and LG offer curved-screen TVs that yield the experience of the curved cinema screen that was brought on with the Cinemascope and Panavision wide-screen cinema technologies of the 1950s. Some manufacturers even are working on the concept of having a display that appears flat one minute then curved the next.

As well, this year is becoming a point where the TVs are becoming cheaper and available at 50” screen sizes. For example, Polaroid are putting up a 50” 4K set at US$999. Similarly most of the other manufacturer are offering a variety of models such as Sony offering the XBR-X950B at 65” and 84” screen sizes, the XBR-X900B at 79”, 65” and 55” along with the XBR-X850B at 70”, 65”, 55”, and 49”, all of which implement their Triluminos and Clear Audio + improvements along with  Wi-Fi networking, NFC and Miracast. Sony are even fielding a short-throw 4K video projector that can throw an image of around 103” but this would be considered big time for most households and small business. What I still see of this is that the sets will still be at a point where they are an upgrade for the main-viewing-room TV set with the fact that existing 1080p sets will end up being “pushed down” to secondary areas.

As for content, the main bearer for 4K-grade content will be through the home network courtesy of video-on-demand services. Services like M-Go, Amazon, Netflix, Sony Video Unlimited and YouTube have strong plans to run 4K content and build partnerships with the various TV manufacturers for delivering the content. Even Netflix is running the second season of “House Of Cards” in 4K and making it available at that quality. Sony are even going to run the FIFA World Cup 2014 soccer tournament in 4K video.

This is brought on through the use of H.265 codec or the VP9 codec and all of these sets will come with HDMI 2.0 connections for video peripherals.Qualcomm are also offering a processor which is optimised for 4K smart-TV applications. As well, Dolby have developed and premiered their Dolby Vision technology which optimises how the pictures are displayed on the screen according to the master – so the “Double-D” logo is not just about sound quality anymore.

Smart TVs

One major trend for smart TVs is for manufacturers to avoid reinventing the wheel when it comes to developing the operating systems for these sets. Here, they are working on implementing general-purpose operating systems like those of the Linux tree and shoehorning them to work with the “10-foot lean-back video-driven” experience that TV requires.

For example, LG is implementing the WebOS which was developed by Palm and HP in their smart TVs due to the improved user experience. For example the setup tutorial encourages users to get the most out of their sets through the use of a Clippy-style Bean-Bird mascot, along with a simple card-based switching user interface and relating to what device is being connected to a particular input. This is where, for example, you might see PS4 rather than HDMI 3 if you have a PS4 hooked up to the set’s “HDMI 3” input. Similarly, RCA and HiSense are toying with Android as an operating system for their smart TVs and Mozilla are working on a variant of the Firefox operating system for use with smart TVs and video peripherals.

MHL is becoming an increasingly-important connectivity feature for TVs launched through this year’s CES. This is brought on by Roku who are using the “Roku Ready” brand to say that their TVs can work with the Roku stick that connects between your TV’s MHL-capable HDMI input and your home network, making it become a smart TV using the TV’s own remote.

Other trends in this field include Samsung offering a simplified pebble-shaped remote control for their TVs which also supports gesture control along with Sharp running SmartCentral which provides search-level aggregation of the content that is available to you. Panasonic are also working on implementing facial-recognition in the application class while working with Mozilla to develop Firefox OS’s smart-TV implementation.

AV Peripheral Devices and Home Audio

Online Audio and Video

Even the separate audio and video equipment are taking on key online-enablement features. For example, an increasing number of Blu-Ray players and home-theatres are being equipped with Miracast technology to allow you to project the display from your suitably-equipped Windows laptop or Android mobile device on to your large-screen TV. Similarly, network-enabled audio equipment are becoming equipped with Spotify functionality such as Spotify Connect so you can benefit from the Spotify celestial jukebox on these devices as I mentioned in my coverage of the Australian Audio & AV Show 2013.

Audio Reproduction and AV equipment

One main trend being observed here is the increased interest in so-called “lifestyle” speakers such as soundbars and wireless speakers.

Many manufacturers are offering soundbars or pedestal speakers that have at least Bluetooth A2DP streaming with NFC “touch-to-go” setup. These are designed to sit in front of or underneath your flat-screen TV to provide a deeper better sound from these sets rather than using the set’s integrated speakers. A significant number of these units come with a wireless subwoofer to provide that meatier bass yet can be relocated easily without the need to worry about wires. Even Philips has shown up with a TV pedestal speaker that has an integrated Blu-Ray player that is a quick “leg-up” for adding Blu-Ray playback, smart-TV experience and better sound.

There are an increasing number of wireless speakers that work with Bluetooth A2DP and, in some cases Wi-Fi with DLNA or AirPlay functionality. For example, Sony are releasing the SRS-X7 and X9 with this functionality and a 2.1 layout that has a common bass driver.

Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

Pure’s wireless speakers and Internet radios to come Statesside

Regular readers of HomeNetworking01.info will know of Pure due to the Jongo speakers and some of their Internet radios that I have reviewed on this site. This brand has made an assault on the US with the Jongo T4 Wi-Fi/Bluetooth speakers along with the Evoke F4  FM/Internet radio with Bluetooth. This radio will also support Jongo synchronous multi-speaker functionality

But the WiSA wireless-speaker standard for high-quality sound has been premiered at this year’s CES with a Sharp Blu-Ray home theatre system that works as a WiSA wireless-speaker hub being used to work with Bang & Olufsen WiSA speakers including a new take on their legendary “pencil” column speakers.

CSR are working on improvements for Bluetooth speakers to allow multiple Bluetooth speakers to play in sync with each other from the one source, an improvement similar to their aptX codec which improves the audio playback quality of Bluetooth audio equipment. Similarly, Broadcom are working on the AllPlay SDK to make it simpler for manufacturers to integrate Wi-Fi with DLNA and AirPlay along with multi-speaker sync into wireless speakers and music systems

Also Sony are still pushing the HiRes Audio barrow that they did during the 2013 Internationaler Funkaustellung show in Berlin. Here, they are pushing the file formats and amplification abilities to their high-end Blu-Ray home theatres in the form of the BDV-N9200W, BDV-N7200W and the BDV-NF7220 two-speaker Blu-Ray home theatre amongst other devices that can play file-based audio content. These all have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth with NFC touch-and-go pairing, Miracast, and Spotify.

For that matter, Sony have refreshed their Blu-Ray player lineup, keeping them as a single unit that adds smart TV abilities to existing display devices. The top 2 models offer Miracast and have integrated Wi-Fi networking while every model except the entry-level model supports DLNA network media playback. They also have just released two single-piece CD/radio/Bluetooth stereos with NFC touch-and-go pairing. The more expensive model also has Wi-Fi with DLNA, AirPlay, Spotify Connect and the Internet-radio “band”.

Panasonic have released the SC-BTT465 and SC-BTT405 Blu-Ray home theatres which have Ethernet and are Wi-Fi ready needing the USB Wi-Fi dongle. Like most recent stereo equipment, they have  Bluetooth audio playback with NFC touch-and-go setup. As well, they provide access to the popular Internet video services. Like Sony, Panasonic have launched their latest Blu-Ray players as being “smart-TV enablers” with access to online services via Wi-Fi and their high-end BDT-360 is Miracast-enabled and has its own Web browser.

Still and Video Cameras

Connectivity to the network and Android-driven cameras

A key feature that is appearing on cameras across the board is the ability to use Wi-Fi to connect to a small network or be their own access point. This is augmented by cameras like the Polaroid Socialmatic and the Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 having direct access to social networks like Facebook or Instagram for uploading photos or cameras having the ability to benefit simply from Miracast or DLNA to show your pictures on the big screen.

The social-network ability is being augmented by cameras implementing Android rather than a reinvented operating environment, thus allowing for quicker application development and access to Android app markets.

Even Olympus has fielded a voice recorder that can upload audio files it captures to Dropbox via Wi-Fi technology. This is more as a way of saying that the dedicated voice recorder exists in the era of the smartphone and its voice-recording application.

Video cameras that shoot at 4K

Sony has come out with a consumer-tier video camera that can shoot to flash memory at 4K resolution. This camera, known as the FDR-AX100, sells for  USD$2000 and is equipped with Wi-Fi networking and NFC setup so you can exhibit those movies on that 4K TV. Of course it comes in the tried-and-trusted HandyCam handheld form-factor which would please most video hobbyists.

Action Cams

Sony and others are furthering the “action cam” which is a small video camcorder that attaches to various accessories to provide hands-free “first-person views”. These have been modelled on the GoPro action camera which clips to the various accessories.

Sony’s latest Action Cam, the top-shelf HDR-AS100V has live streaming, pro features and a splash-proof body and the ability to create time-coded movies for multiple angles in one picture efforts. There is an optional wrist controller with screen which also allows you to start and stop five of these cameras at the same time from this controller. This camera also joins the home network using Wi-Fi wireless and NFC touch-and-go setup.

Polaroid has joined the club by offering an entry-level “action cam” with not much in features but pitched at the same “social and casual” market, of course with the coloured body and rainbow stripe.

JVC has bucked this trend by offering a highly-ruggedised camcorder that can work in very extreme environments yet be handled like a camcorder.

Field photo printing

Polaroid and Fuji are putting up devices that are about “print-and-share” photo-printing. The former example is the previously-mentioned Socialmatic camera which has a Zink printer which mimics the classic experience with the Polaroid instant-picture cameras. It has even been styled in a way to evoke memories of their OneStep / 1000 series of entry-level instant-picture cameras with the white front and the rainbow detail under the lens.

Fuji have provided the Instax printer which uses a Wi-Fi link to print to 2”x3” instant-print film. This may be considered more as a toy or “quick-print” device to snap at Polaroid’s solution.

Gaming

The games market has been effectively controlled by the XBox One and PlayStation 4 consoles with casual and small-time gaming taking place on the mobile platforms.

But the main activity that has been occurring at this year’s CES is Valve launching the SteamBox gaming platform with many PC-based gaming names launching their “Steam Machines”. These are computer systems that work to Intel-based microarchitecture but run Valve’s “Steam OS” games operating system rather than Windows. They also work on the cloud-driven games distribution and gameplay model that Valve championed with their Steam concept. There is even the Digital Storm Bolt 2 which is a gaming computer which boots either to Windows 8 or the SteamOS gaming operating system.

NVIDIA also built up the Shield handheld-gaming concept which allows games on the PC or a GRID server to be played on a “PlayAnywhere” handheld.

These are about furthering a concept of streaming gameplay to a local display and control surface or using “download-to-play” setups to allow portable gameplay using the home network and the Internet.

Sony is not taking this lying down by launching the PayStation Now platform which allows you to play PS3 games on Android phones or tablets thus keeping the PlayStation name in everyone’s heads.

Conclusion

The next part of the series touches on the trends that are affecting personal computing including mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets. It will also touch on the newer technologies that are affecting the home network and other small networks.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2013–Part 3

Introduction

In Part 1, I had covered the home entertainment direction with such technologies as the 4K UHDTV screens, smart TV, and the presence of alternate gaming boxes. Then in Part 2, I had covered the rise of touchscreen computing, increased pixel density the 802.11ac Wi-Fi network segment amongst other things. Now I am about to cover the mobile-computing technology which is infact a strong part of the connected lifestyle.

Mobile technology

Smartphones

A major direction that is showing up for smartphones is the 5” large-screen devices that have been brought about by the Samsung Galaxy Note series of smartphones. These are described as “phablets” because they are a bridge device between the traditional 4” smartphone and the 7” coat-pocket tablet.

Sony are premiering the new Xperia premium Android phones which are the Xperia Z and Xperia ZL 5” standard with 1080p display. The Xperia ZL is a dual-SIM variant of the XPeria Z. As well, Huawei have increased their foothold in the US market by offering more of the reasonably-priced regular smartphones.

There has been some more effort towards standardised wireless charging for the smartphone. This is although there are two groups promoting their standards – the Power Matters Alliance and the Wireless Power Consortium who maintain the Qi (chee) wireless-charging standard. Examples of this include Toyota implementing the Qi standard in their 2013 Avalon vehicles and Nokia integrating it in to their Lumia 920 smartphones.

On the accessories front, Invoxia had launched an iPhone dock which connected two desk phones to the iPhone. The original device used the iPhone as an outside line for the desk phones whereas the current version launched here also works as a VoIP terminal for the desk phones. It also works with a supplied iOS softphone app to have the iPhone as a softphone for the VoIP setup.

Tablets

Now there is an increasing number of the 7” coat-pocket tablets which were previously dismissed in the marketplace but made popular by the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire. The Windows-RT-based devices were showing up more as a 10” tablet or a detachable-keyboard hybrid device.

Polaroid, trying to keep their brand alive in consumers’ minds after the demise of their legendary instant-picture cameras, have launched a few of the Android tablets. One is a 7” unit pitched for use by children. Here, this model uses 8Gb onboard storage and microSD expansion, 2-megapixel camera and works only with 802.11g/n Wi-Fi networks. It is built in a rugged form to withstand little ones’ handling but can work well for environments where a coat-pocket tablet device could cop a lot of hard wear-and-tear. The M10 is a 10” variant with a brushed-metal finish.

RCA fielded an 8” Android tablet that is made by Digital Stream and has integrated TV tuners. Here, it could pick up conventional ATSC digital TV and mobile ATSC (Dyle) broadcasts and works to the Android ICS. Personally, I would suspect that this device could be sold out to other markets, perhaps under other brands and equipped with local-spec tuners like DVB-T tuners.

Mobile technology

The ARM-based microprocessor has raised the ante for more powerful work by offering the same number of processor cores as the newer IA-32 or IA-64 processors used in regular computers. Yet this could allow for increased computing power with less power requirements thus making the embedded devices, smartphones and tablets that use RISC processing do more.

Here, NVIDIA launched the Tegra 4 which is a4-core ARM CPU that can yield faster response from tablets and smartphones. Samsung raised the bar with their Exynos 5 Octa which is an 8-core ARM CPU.

Samsung used this event to show a prototype 5.5” (1280×720) flexible screen and a 55” flexible screen as a proof-of-concept. As well, LG increased the pixel density by exhibiting a 5.5” 1080p smartphone screen.

The connected home

There has been very little happening concerning home automation and security through the past years of the Consumer Electronics Show but this year, the connected home has increased its foothold here.

This is demonstrated through the concept of mobile apps being used to control or monitor appliances, thermostats, security systems and the like.

Here, Motorola demonstrated a “Connected Home” router being a device that allows you to control a network-enabled central-heating thermostat using an app on an Android phone. What I liked of this was that the mobile device used to manage that thermostat wasn’t just the Apple iPhone and you were able to move away from that hard-to-program wall thermostat.

This has been brought about through the Nest thermostat opening up the market for user-friendly thermostats for heating / cooling systems. Here, this could lead to a commercial-style heating-control setup with a small wall-mounted box that works as a temperature sensor but may have a knob or two buttons for you to adjust the comfort level “on the fly”. Then you use your smartphone, tablet or computer that runs an easy-to-understand app to program comfort levels for particular times of particular days.

Alarm.com, a firm who provide monitoring for home automation and security sold through large retailers, has provided a “dashboard app” for their equipment that works on their platform. This app runs on the common mobile-phone platforms (iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 8) so you can use your phone to check on the state of things with your Alarm.com setup.

Similarly, the Securifi Almond+ 802.11ac Wi-Fi router was exhibited at this year’s CES. This is a regular home network router but has integrated Zigbee / Z-Wave wireless home-automation-network support. Here, this device can be seen as a dashboard for the connected home and they are intending to fund this with a Kickstarter campaign.

As for appliances, Dacor integrated a 7” Android tablet into their high-end wall oven and this provides for guided cooking including recipe lookup. Of course, Samsung hasn’t let go of the Internet fridge dream and exhibited a four-door fridge with an integrated app-driven screen that can work alongside their Android phones and tablets. They also exhibited a top-loading washing machine that uses an LCD control panel and is able to be controlled with a smartphone.

This is part of the “Internet of things” and this concept was underscored by a few manufacturers becoming charter members of the “Internet Of Things Consortium”. It is about an open-frame vendor-independent infrastructure for interlinking home automation / security, consumer entertainment, and computing devices using the common standards and common application-programming interfaces.

Automotive Technology

Of course the car is not forgotten about at the Consumer Electronics Show, and is considered as an extension of our connected lives.

A main automotive drawcard feature for this year are the self-driving cars; but the core feature for now are the app platforms for vehicle infotainment systems. Infact, Ford and GM are encouraging people to develop software for their infotainment setups. This is exploiting the fact that midrange and premium cars are increasingly being equipped with Internet connections and highly-sophisticated infotainment systems that have navigation, mobile phone integration and media playback.

Here, you might think of navigation, Internet radio / online content services and communications services. It may also include “one-touch” social destination sharing amongst other things.

For example, Google Maps to come in to Hyundai and Kia cars as part of their UVO connected infotainment platform. The first vehicle to have this is the Kia Sorrento (model-year 2014). Similarly Hyundai are implementing the MirrorLink smartphone-user-interface-replication technology in the infotainment setups.

As well. TuneIn Radio and Apple Siri integration are to be part of model-year 2013 Chevrolet Sonic & Spark cars. Ford has implement the Glympse social-destination-sharing software as part of their SYNC AppLink platform.

Similarly, Pioneer are extending the AppRadio functionality across most of their head-units so you can have certain iOS apps managed from the dashboard. They have also provided connectivity options for Apple’s iPhone 5 device with its Lightning connector and iOS 6 platform.

Last but not least

Pebble were showing a Kickstarter-funded concept of an E-paper smartwatch that interlinks with your smartphone. Here. I was wondering whether E-paper and E-ink could become the new LCD display for devices that can rely on an available-light display. It was also a way where these “smartwatches” were having us think back to the 80s where the more features and functions a digital watch had, the better it was and you could start showing off that watch to your friends.

Conclusion

This year has underscored a few key trends:

  • the 4K UHDTV display and displays with increased pixel density being mainstream,
  • the acceptance of touchscreen computing with regular computers courtesy of Windows 8,
  • the arrival of very lightweight laptop computers,
  • NFC becoming a common setup method for smartphones and consumer AV,
  • the draft 802.11ac Gigabit Wi-Fi network segment being exhibited with relatively-mature equipment,
  • the 5” smartphone and 7” tablet becoming mainstream mobile options

and has shown up what can be capable in our connected lives. Who knows what the next major trade shows will bring forth, whether as a way to “cement” these technologies or launch newer technologies. Similarly, it would be interesting whether these technologies would catch on firmly in to the marketplace.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2013–Part 2

Introduction

I am continuing from where I left off with Part 1 which focused on the home entertainment aspect such as the 4K UHDTV screens and the games consoles that are to put Sony and Microsoft on notice.

Computers

With Windows 8 already launched, the trend for computers is to see more of the ultraportable computer that come either with a touchscreen or a Windows-8 multi-touch trackpad. Most manufacturers are running with at least one convertible ultraportable model that has swivel-screen, 360-degree hinge or a slide-out design as well as a detachable-keyboard hybrid tablet in order to catch this user interface.

The consumer desktop computers will typically manifest as a touch-enabled all-in-one unit alithough a lot of the 21” large-screen tablet computers of the same ilk as the Sony VAIO Tap 20 are surfacing for this category. THe concept is augmented through the use of “one-machine multi-player” hybrid video/board games that can be played using these touch screens.

Another trend that is appearing for some of these products is the display having an increased pixel density with 1080p resolution appearing on 13” and smaller screens or 4K and similar resolution displays appearing on the mainstream screen sizes. This has been driven by Apple’s implementation of high-pixel-density “Retina” displays in some of their MacBook lineup. Of course, Windows 8 would have native support for adapting its Desktop and Modern user interfaces to these higher pixel densities and most software developers would be encouraged to adapt to the newer pixel densities.

Acer is launching the Aspire S7 Ultrabook and the Iconia W700 and W510 detachable-keyboard tablets. Dell has also launched a 1080p display as an option for the XPS 13 Ultrabook.

Toshiba have provided newer products such as the Satellite U845t which is a touchscreen Ultrabook that runs for approximately US$800. This 14” (1366×768) WIndows 8 computer has an option of an i3 or i5 CPU, 500Gb on the hard disk and 32Gb SSD cache, up to 6Gb RAM and equipped with HDMI, Ethernet, SDHC card slot and 3 USB ports (1 with USB 3.0). Here, they intended to position the U845t as the Ultrabook equivalent of the “reasonably-priced car”.

They also ran with the Qosmio X875 which is a gaming laptop with a 1Tb hybrid hard drive with 8Gb SSD cache. It also has the “Black Widow” performance design with up to 32Gb RAM, up to 2Tb storage and a 3GB NVIDIA GTX 670M GPU display and NVIDIA 3D as an option.

On the other hand. HP are launching 2 affordable “Sleekbook” ultraportables that are driven by AMD processors. Both of these are what you would call a “lightweight mainstream” laptop with a 15.6” screen, replaceable batteries, numeric keypads and multi-touch trackpads. They also have Dolby sound tuning as a way to make that music or video sound better. The basic model comes with the A6 processor, 6Gb RAM and 500Gb hard disk storage while the premium “Touchsmart” variant comes with a touchscreen, the faster A8 processor, 6Gb RAM and 750Gb hard disk storage.

Lenovo exhibited their Horizon 27 touchscreen desktop all-in-one which is able to work as an “action table”. As well, Lenovo are planning to “split” their brand by having the Lenovo brand for home and small-business computing equipment and the “Think” brand associated with “ThinkPad” and “ThinkCentre” for their large-business computing equipment. This direction reminds me of Ford’s and Chrysler’s Australian operations in the late 60s and early 70s where they were trying to run a separate brand for their luxury cars with “LTD” and “Landau” for Ford’s efforts and “VIP” for Chrysler’s efforts.

Panasonic were showing their 20” 4K-display “VAIO-Tap-style” tablet with Windows 8 as a prototype for their computer entry.

Dell launched their Latitude 10 essentials tablet which is their effort at pushing the price of a full Windows 8 tablet down to a reasonable price of US$499. This has the Intel microarchitecture and comes with a 10” screen as well as 32Gb of SSD storage. They also issued a 1080p screen option for their XPS 13 Ultrabook.

Gigabyte have fielded an extra tiny desktop PC with Intel i7 horsepower. This machine is a similar size to the Apple Mac Mini, but like machines of this ilk, you don’t have room to expand compared to larger computers.

ASUS also fielded the Transformer all-in-one tablet which can boot Android 4.1 and Windows 8. It has for its display an 18.4” screen with 1080p resolution.

Regular computer technology

Intel has been tweaking the Atom CPUs as a stronger system-on-chip for low-tier portable computing and released limited runs of the Ivy Bridge chipset which are tuned for power conservation and system performance.

Peripherals

Computer monitors

There are some technologies that are appearing for this class of device such as the increased pixel density such as a 4K UHDTV screen (2560×1440) for 20” and above or 1080p HDTV (1920×1080) for lesser screen sizes, use of a 21:9 aspect ratio, affordable IPS LCD displays and touchscreen displays.

Here, LG had launched a 4K 30” screen as well as the EA93 21:9 screen which has a 2560×1080 resolution and 4-way split abilities. Similarly ASUS launched an ultrawide 21:9 monitor with similar specifications to this monitor. As well, Sharp had exhibited a 32” 4K-resolution monitor which is the thinnest in this class. This IGZO-driven screen comes in at a thickness of 1.5”.

HP had launched a run of 20”-27” monitors such as the deluxe Envy 27 that has an elegant bezel-free IPS display, HDMI digital audio with optical SPDIF output as well as a 3.5mm pre-out jack. It has the above-mentioned HDMI connector, a DisplayPort connector and a legacy VGA connector. The sound subsystem in this model is, like most of the premium and midrange HP consumer laptops, tuned by BeatsAudio.

The Pavilion xi Series (20”, 22”, 23” 25” and 27”) has IPS and the full input complement (VGA, DVI and HDMI). Except for the 20” variant, they can work with the 1920×1080 resolution. The Pavilion P Series (18.5”, 20” and 21”) are pitched as the “budget business” models which can work at 1366×768 or the 20” and 21” models can work at 1600×900 resolution.

They also released the U160 which is a USB-powered portable DisplayLink monitor. This 15” screen, which works at 1366×768, comes in a leather case and is pitched to work as a second screen for that ultraportable notebook computer.

Speaking of DisplayLink, the organisation that represents the “display over USB” concept has demonstrated a “single-pipe” USB 3.0 external-display setup. This “proof-of-concept” uses one USB 3.0 cable to provide external power to the laptop alongside the transfer of display, USB-peripheral, audio and Ethernet between the laptop and the monitor. It is more about the idea of encouraging the development of a USB monitor dock which is effectively a laptop power supply, USB hub, Ethernet network adaptor and external display and audio. As well, the DisplayLink MacOS X driver has been updated to work with 4 adaptors using USB 3.0 technology.

ASUS exploted the DisplayLink concept further with their VariDrive expansion module. This is a laptop expansion module that has a DVD burner, DisplayLink video to HDMI or legacy VGA devices, Ethernet and Audio via HDMI and connects to that ultraportable via USB 3.0.

Network technology

802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless

There is an increasing number of wireless routers, access points and USB “stick” client adaptors that work with the new draft 802.11ac wireless-network specification.

These are are also being equipped with performance-improvement and QoS-optimisation chipsets from the various chipset vendors. An example of this is Qualcomm’s StreamBoost technology which manages the WAN (Internet) and LAN (home network) sides of the equation for optimum throughput for the small network.

As well, D-Link have launched an online-gaming-optimised 802.11ac Gigabit router with the Qualcomm Atheros VIVE technology. Netgear are also making for an easy-to-set-up experience for their newer routers by implementing the QR codes on their management user interface so you can integrate your Android phone to the home network very quickly. They also fielded the D600 which is the first 802.11ac DSL modem router that can work with today’s ADSL networks. But it also has a Gigabit Ethernet WAN connection for use with next-generation broadband.

Of course, most of the router manufacturers are touting cloud technology for this product class. This is primarily about remote access to data held on storage that is attached to these routers via a Web interface or a client-side mobile app.

Shoehorning the home network, and the HomePlug technology

There have been a few interesting devices that can improve your home network.Firstly, NETGEAR have shown a plug-in simultaneous-dual-band wireless range extender / Wi-Fi client bridge that offers a feature that snaps at the heels of the Apple Airport Express. Here, this device has AirPlay / DLNA audio playout so you can connect an amplifier or a pair of active speakers and push audio content from your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop PC through that amplifier or speakers. At the moment, I don’t know if this device can also work as a regular access point.

The HomePlug AV specification is still pushed as a “wired with no-new-wires” option for the home network and Engenius have released a device that capitalises on this fact. It combines a HomePlug AV 500 bridge, a 5-port Gigabit Ethernet switch and an 802.11n N300 Wi-Fi access point as the ultimate network-hub option for the far end of the house, the old bungalow or that funky old 1970s caravan that is serving as a teenager’s sleepout or extra office.

For that matter, HomePlug network technology isn’t just showing up as network-infrastructure hardware but as being integrated in connected devices. This is more so with a Netgear Airplay audio adaptor / USB server and some of Hisense’s latest connected TV designs. As well, other chipmakers like Broadcomm and Sigma are supplying chipsets for at least the HomePlug AV specification. This could reduce the cost of the hardware for this network segment.

Similarly, the HomePlug AV2 Gigabit MIMO standard which exploits the earth wire as well as the active and neutral wires in the mains wiring is coming closer. This is expected to yield good things for the home network such as each node being a repeater as well as this “no-new-wires” technology hitting the Gigabit mark.

Portable routers

AT&T and Sierra Wireless used this show to launch the second model of the touch-screen MiFi. But this one is equipped with the 4G LTE as its WAN (Internet) connection.

D-Link also exhibited the SharePort Go 2 which is a pocket-sized 802.11g/n Wi-Fi router that works with an Ethernet connection or a USB wireless-broadband adaptor. The Wi-Fi segment is the only LAN segment available to this travel router but it can also share content held on an SD card.

Printer technology

There hasn’t been much happening for printers at this year’s CES. Typically new models may be launched at separate events like CEBit in Hannover, Computex in Taipei or Photokina in Cologne due to some focusing on small-business needs or photography printing needs. As well, the manufacturers run their own events to launch their own printers.

This is  although Canon had launched the PiXMA MX392, MX452, MX522 and MX922. These have in common high-capacity cartridges with a front-load design similar to Brother inkjets and the HP OfficeJet Pro 8600a series. This is a welcome move away from having to open a lid on the printer when the ink runs out.  They are also optimised with a high duty cycle which would also please business owners who want a lot more out of them. Most of the networked models in this series also are set up for Google Cloud Print.

Storage Technology

Toshiba has shown a microSDHC card reference design which implements the TransferJet technology. This is a near-field wireless data transfer for microSDHC devices rather than having this integrated in the device’s electronics. I wonder how the operating systems would cope with the idea of this technology so you can select files to transfer but this could work well for cameras and MP3 players.

Seagate have premiered their Wireless Plus mobile NAS which is like the GoFlex Satellite except it has a larger capacity of 1 Terabyte. Surprising for this product class, this unit is the first mobile NAS to implement DLNA MediaServer technology so it could stream to Internet radios, smart TVs or DLNA media player software.

They also launched the Central NAS which works with a Samsung TV app or can stream to any DLNA-capable media device. It could then mean you can do more with your files at your Samsung smart TV rather than just view them.

The HP Pocket Playlist is HP’s first mobile NAS device. It can share stored Hulu or Netflix content which is loaded to it through PC software that ties in with the PlayLater option. For that matter, it can serve 5 Wi-Fi devices on its own.

Western Digital also launched the WD Black hybrid hard disks that integrate SSD and spinning-platter technology in a 2.5” housing. They would be pitched to OEMS for use with the next laptops or ultraportables.

Conclusion

Stay tuned to the last in this series which will encompass mobile technology as well as the smart home and automotive technology.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2013-Part 1

Introduction

By the end of Christmas and, in some cases, even through Advent, manufacturers are starting to run teaser press releases about what technologies and products they will release or exhibit at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

TV technology

A major part of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was TV and video technology.

4K ultra-high-definition TV

Every TV manufacturer ran with a flatscreen TV set capable of displaying images at the new 4K ultra-high-definition resolution. This yields an image of 3840×2160 pixels, equivalent to an image captured by an 8 megapixel digital camera.

Some of these were 84” or 110” sets which wouldn’t fit in to most peoples’ living rooms and would be out of most peoples’ price ranges. But manufacturers like Sony are launching 4K TV models at 55” and 65” screen sizes. These are exploiting the high-pixel-density trend which is encompassing display design, in a similar effect to what the Apple Retina display has brought about.

At the moment, these sets upscale standard definition and high-definition images from broadcast and other video sources. But Sony is working on a hard-disk-based media player to play content that has been turned out in this form. This is part of a 4K media distribution network that they expect to launch by the end of the Northern-Hemisphere summer.

It is also reckoned that it will take a few years for the 4K UHDTV technology to mature and manufacturers to release models at a price that most of us can afford. This is something that will typically happen with most technology.

OLED and Display technology

Another trend that LG, Samsung and Sony are working on is the OLED display for the large-screen TV set. This is something most of us would experience with an HTC or Samsung smartphone and yields a high contrast ration and very deep colours.

Sony is wanting to apply it to a 4K ultra-high-definition display, but LG and Samsung are advancing the OLED screens at the 55” HD formats. For that matter, Panasonic was also showing a 56” 4K OLED screen as a prototype. Samsung also advanced a curved 55” HD prototype along with a curved 5” prototype for handheld applications.

On the other hand, LG has demonstrated a laser projection TV setup called the HECTO. This unit can show a 100” 16:9 image with a 22” throw using a special screen and yield this as a very bright image. The projection unit has what is expected of a flat-screen TV, including an integrated TV tuner.

Smart TV technologies

The TV is now more sophisticated and smart than it ever was. This is where it is not just a display device or just to pick up broadcast content. Here, the set effectively works as a computer with an app-driven ecosystem.

Panasonic has also now become part of the Smart TV Alliance which was started off by LG and Philips. On the other hand, Google TV had gained some more traction as a platform with LG with the GA6400 and GA7900 “main viewing area” sets.

As for Samsung, they have improved their Smart Hub user-interface and shown the Evolution Kit which is an upgrade kit for most of their current-issue flat-screen TVs and the sets to be introduced over subsequent years. This will add on improved processor performance as well as access to the new user interface; and is an example of what they have done to satisfy the reality that TVs do perform many years of service even as they are “pushed down” to other viewing areas.

The software that is being driven with the Smart TV environment is primarily content searching, TV Everywhere and “second-screen” applications. It is also leading to various “virtual cable box” applications where the TV is its own cable box with the content delivered via the Internet using end-to-end content-protection / subscription-management technology.

Audio and Video Technology

NFC “Touch & Go” operation

A strong trend that is showing up this year is NFC-driven “Touch & Go” operation. Here, you touch your NFC-capable Android smartphone or tablet to the device to have it pair up and connect via Bluetooth or set up via Wi-Fi for music playback. This avoids many confusing processes to get that wireless speaker going. As far as music systems and similar products go, it would also have the unit select the “Bluetooth” or “Network Audio” source automatically.

Sony had made a “big thing” of this feature with their wireless speakers and headsets through their press conference. As well, most of the manufacturers who are running wireless speakers, music systems or home-theatre-in-box systems are integrating this function in their products.

LG has implemented this further with their newer Blu-Ray home theatre. Here, the Android device can be set to throw its display on to the connected TV screen which would come in handy for viewing videos or playing games held on this device. Similarly the Android device can be set up to work as an “earphone” for the home theatre so you can use it late at night without scrambling around for the headset jack on the TV or home theatre central unit.

AV receivers

So far, Harman have fielded two new network AV receivers for that main audio-video system. Here, they can pull in Internet radio or content from a DLNA media source and have content “thrown” to them via the home network from your computer or mobile device using DLNA or AirPlay. The AVR-2700 has 8 HDMI connections with 4K image scale-up and a 7.1 audio output with 100W per channel while the more expensive AVR-3700 adds integrated Wi-Fi wireless and has a 7.2 audio output with a more powerful 125W per channel.

Smart video peripherals

There is an increase in the number of Blu-Ray players, home-theatre units and network media players that provide smart-TV functionality without you needing a smart TV.

For example, HiSense, ASUS and TCL were intending to sell Google-TV-based network media devices while Roku was providing a small but highly-strung network media receiver. This was eve to be able to work as a full-bore cable box for one on f the cable-TV companies in the US. Netgear also launched a new range of NeoTV network media players including some that had SlingPlayer clients and one driven by the Google TV platform.

But Archos are also fielding an Android-based network media box which is also showing that the Android platform associated with a lot of the smartphones is also appearing on the TVs as a low-cost option.

4K technology

At the moment, most video peripherals that connect to the new 4K ultra-high-definition TVs will upscale the standard-definition and high-definition images to the very high resolutions  offered by these sets. This is because there isn’t a common broadcast, on-demand or packaged-media distribution platform for distributing the content that is in this resolution.

Sony are using a hard-disk-based network media player with integrated BD-ROM drive, along with the content passed around on BD-ROM (Blu-Ray data) discs as a way of distributing the content. But they are working on an improved distribution method to go live by the middle of the year. As well, they said that consumer 4K will take some time to mature as equipment becomes more affordable.

Of course, Sony outlined that the 4K ultra-high-definition technology will be used in the video-production workflow, telecine (film-to-video) and video mastering applications. It is in a similar vein to the early days of digital audio recording before the arrival of the CD. This was where audio recordings were produced using at least a digital master-recording and this recording was used to turn out the records and tapes that were for public sale.

This will also involve films having their master negatives transferred to 4K video using equipment that scans the master negative at this resolution, then a 1080p scaled-down copy of this 4K master would be used for Blu-Ray distribution or HDTV broadcast. Sony also stated that they would implement the 4K production workflow into short-form video work like TV drama and commercials.

Broadcast-LAN cable TV setups

The FCC has recently laid down a pro-competition pro-consumer requirement for pay-TV providers to implement a broadcast-LAN strategy to work with most DLNA-compliant smart TVs and video peripherals. This is to drop the need to equip every TV in the house with a set-top box as is commonly the case with providing pay-TV to each set.

Intel has shown a broadcast-LAN gateway with 6 tuners and support for the DLNA content-protection requirements. This device is being positioned as being for use with Comcast’s cable-TV setups; while there are similar devices including cable boxes with this function being provided for other cable-TV systems.

Speakers and soundbars

There has been an increase in the number of wireless speakers and soundbars that are to work with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi (AirPlay / DLNA) setups.

Samsung has furthered the hybrid valve (vacuum tube) / transistor design that they used in a few wireless speakers of theirs in to their latest TV soundbar. This unit uses an accelerometer to allow it to self-adjust for lying flat or standing on its edge in respect to how it sounds and where it displays its status.

Video gaming

The console gaming market has undergone a shakeup over this year with NVIDIA and Valve fielding their TV-based gaming systems – the Shield portable and the Steam Box TV-based unit . This is alongside the Ouya Android-based TV console and a Kickstarter-funded portable showing up as Android-powered alternatives.

Here, the Steam Box would have access to the Valve Steam game store while the Shield would have access to the NVIDIA TegraZone games store alongside the Google Play app store. This is showing up to be an “uh-oh” moment for Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo who have thought of themselves in a position to “call the shots” for console gaming, especially when it comes to what titles can surface. I also suspect that this will also be a time for smaller independent studios to surface with some interesting games titles that are away from the norm.

Conclusion

Stay tuned for the next part of this series which will cover PC and home-network technology which will help in bringing the increasingly-connected home together from the CES.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2012–Part 3

Network Technology

There are a few major trends that I have noticed for the home and small-business network at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. But the big names like D-Link and NETGEAR had chosen to run private showings of their products in the many hotels around Las Vegas rather than use the Convention Center.

Wireless networking

The 802.11ac Gigabit wireless network standard has been ratified and a lot of the manufacturers are showing prototype chipsets and endpoint devices for networks based on this standard. TRENDNet had shown a router and a client bridge as a proof of concept for a wireless link on this standard and D-Link had registered interest in developing their 802.11ac implementation.

On the other hand, Belkin, D-Link and Engenius ran with premium “N900” routers as their top-shelf models. These are simultaneous dual-band routers that run three data streams on each of the two Wi-Fi bands with a total theoretical throughput of 450Mbps per band. 

As well, TRENDNet had tried their effort at another of those “universal Wi-Fi range extenders” which is a device class that could cause some mistakes.

Coaxial and Powerline Networking

MoCA have brought their TV coaxial-cable network specification up to 2.0 which allowed for a headline speed of 400Mbps with Broadcom showing a system-on-chip that works with this standard. They were pitching it at the set-top-box market, especially for multi-room cable-TV deployments.

On the other hand, HomePlug PowerLine Alliance have made the HomePlug AV2 specification official. This standard, which is interoperable with HomePlug AV powerline network segments can support MIMO / repeater operation for a robust powerline segment as well as allowing for a Gigabit physical-layer bandwidth for this segment. The former MIMO advantage makes it that each HomePlug AV2 node acts as a repeater and can take data from two or more nodes for higher throughput even with ropey mains circuits.

But there have been more of the HomePlug AV 500 devices being exhibited on the floor; including D-Link’s DIR-1565 “three-way” router which supports a network of 802.11g/n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet and HomePlug AV 500.

Also, the IEEE 1905.1 standard has been officialised thus simplifying the setup and management requirements for small networks that use Wi-Fi, Ethernet, HomePlug or MoCA network media or a combination thereof. It also provides a consistent quality-of-service arrangement for data that passes through the different network media.

Routers

Some of the manufacturers were pitching at the idea of “cloud-enabling” their routers. This was to allow for remote management of these devices or to allow the router to become an Internet-enabled file server. There was also some talk about setting up app platforms for routers, but what could this lead to for the evolution of these devices.

D-Link have launched the DIR-505 which is a 802.11g/n Wi-Fi plug-in travel router which also had the ability to work as an access point and file-server.

Network-Attached Storage

TP-Link had used this show to launch their first NAS unit which was a DLNA-capable 2-bay SATA unit with Gigablt Ethernet connectivity as well as 3 USB ports. It even had the ability to copy from USB to NAS at the touch of a button.

Iomega had refreshed their StorCenter NAS lineup by adding a surveillance-camera NVR functionality and making them easy to setup. This also included improving their cloud-storage functionality. They also introduced the EZ Media & Backup Center which was their entry-level home-user NAS which supported easy-setup operation and backup, iTunes / DLNA media serving and support for Iomega’s Personal Cloud and Iomega Link technology.

Broadband Internet

ViaSat, who provide the satellite backhaul for JetBlue’s inflight Internet service, were intending to launch a satellite broadband service for rural America this year. They wanted to use this show to exhibit their proposed service. This service is intended to be speed-competitive with the fastest terrestrial broadband services in the cities and is to be known as Exede.

The throughput is at a headline speed of 12Mbps download / 3Mbps upload and they are offering packages with monthly rates US$49.99 for 7.5Gb data allowance, US$79.99 for 15Gb data allowance and US$129.99 for 25Gb data allowance.

Conclusion

This year, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was about estalishing a connected home lifestyle across all of the main activity centres ranging from the home office to the lounge area and that the TV is now a legitimate part of the connected lifestye.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2012–Part 2

Audio and VIdeo

Smart TV

There is still intense interest in the smart-TV platforms where your TV is effectively a computer connected to the Internet. This is more so with the idea of integrating multiple viewing screens ie the large TV screen, one or more computer screens, and the screens on tablets and smartphones.

Sony have been dabbling with the Google TV platform, mainly in the form of network video peripherals rather than a TV, which I will mention below. Of course, they are still maintaining their Bravia platform. They were also to promote this concept in a Las Vegas wedding at the Bellagio Wedding Chapel between “Bravia” (Sony’s Internet TV platform) and “Sony Entertainment Network” (Sony’s online content entity).

As far as the interactive-TV lineup goes, Sony have focused this function across their HX and EX “lounge-room” models with the HX series being ready for Skype once the user purchases an optional camera.

Samsung have devoted most of their press event to the TV being the “smart hub” of the connected home. This is with the use of a connected TV chassis that has a dual-core CPU, as well as building up the “Smart TV” platform around an app store and a video-content-distribution platform. They even are using an Android app as the TV’s remote rather than supplying the remote with the TV set. They even ran a competition for the development of a multi-screen app which makes best use of the TV screen alongside a smartphone or tablet screen.

As well, Samsung put forward an “open-frame” design for TV sets with a user-upgradable computer processor. This is in a similar way to how the desktop computer has been designed and is underscoring the fact that these smart TVs are really large-screen computers in their own right and are expected to last for in the order of ten or more years.

Even Lenovo had come to the fore with a 55” LCD set that is driven by the Android “Ice Cream Sandwich” operating system. This would link to their own app store and cloud services and have the usual “smart-TV” features like Wi-Fi connectivity and ability to use an SD card as storage.

Similarly, a “fork” of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, which was targeted at the Internet-enabled TV set, had been launched at this show.

Ultra-high-definition TV

Another main trend surfacing this year at the Consumer Electronics Show is ultra-high-definition TV, also known as UDTV or 4DTV. This is where images have a resolution of 3840×2160 pixels and is pitched at the very large screens of 103” and bigger.

LG is intending to demonstrate an 84” prototype set which works at this resolution while Sony even had the idea of having some of their Blu-Ray players upscale the 1080p video to the higher resolution offered by this newer technology.

3D TV

The main trends affecting this technology are glasses-free 3D screens where you don’t need to wear glasses to watch the 3D effect; use of cheaper cinema-style passive 3D glasses which don’t need to link to the set or require batteries; as well as standards-based active glasses systems.

Toshiba is launching a glasses-free QFHD 3D TV 

OLED as a TV display technology

LG and Samsung have made efforts to bring the OLED display technology to the living-room TV size. Here, they have proven it by demonstrating 55” TV sets that use this technology rather than the LCD or plasma technologies for their screens.

There were rumours that Sony was to dump OLED technology for TV displays but they wanted to refine it to a cost-effective point for professional and consumer users. They have also shown a “Crystal LED” screen prototype which works in a similar vein to LED screens used in public places but implemented on 55” displays.

Other TV news

Some classic names of respect are using this fair to strengthen themselves in the American market. Westinghouse have launched a 3D TV but none of their sets came with Internet-enabled TV functionality. This was to keep their sets at an affordable price point.

RCA had rebuilt their name on a large run of TVs for the North American market as well as fielding a 55” Internet-enabled TV for the Latin-American market. They were using this show to launch some Android-powered mobile TV sets for the up-and-coming “Dyle” mobile / handheld terrestrial TV platform in North America.

Speaking of Dyle, Belkin and MCV were launching an array of equipment and accessories so that people can benefit from this mobile TV platform.

Home-theatre and Hi-Fi

Samsung had used this show to launch two soundbars with iPod / Galaxy S / Allshare (DLNA) integration with one being based on hybrid valve / digital amplification technology. They also ran with two Blu-Ray-based home-theatre-in-box setups with “Disc-Digital” which is Samsung’s implementation of the UltraViolet “digital video locker” service as well as the 7.1 channel unit being based on the above-mentioned valve-digital hybrid amplification technology. The other 5.1 channel version implements a wireless link for the back speakers and both systems use Wi-Fi to link to the home network.

Samsung even launched a home-theatre soundbar which can become two speakers and could link to sources via HDMI ARC (audio return path from HDMI 1.4-compliant TVs) or Bluetooth A2DP. RCA also launched a similar soundbar that connected to the home network and worked as a network media player for Netflix and similar services.

They are also implementing the “DIsc-Digital” UltraViolet implementation across the Blu-Ray player lineup at this year’s CES. One of the players is a similar size to a Discman and accepts discs through a slot while another of the players is a slimline form factor with HDMI inputs for TVs that don’t have enough HDMI sockets.

Sony have shown two Google-TV-based network video peripherals, the NSZ-GS7 which is a network media adaptor and the NSZ-GP9 which is a Blu-Ray player. As well, they have released two DLNA-capable Blu-Ray home theatre systems with full access to the Bravia Internet TV platform as well as a home-theatre receiver. Sony also released a few “HomeShare” DLNA speakers that connect to the Wi-Fi home network and have audio content pushed to them.

Panasonic have run with a large lineup of Blu-Ray players and Blu-Ray home-theatre systems. All of these connect to the home network and support DLNA functionality but the 3D-capable models and the home-theatre systems provide full access to Panasonic’s Viera Connect smart-TV platform including Skype and the Social Web for your existing TV.

These latest releases by Sony and Panasonic mean that you can use the cheaper and older TVs and have full access to the Internet-provisioned “smart TV” content and applications out there. In the case of the Panasonic 3D Blu-Ray players and home-theatres, add the Skype camera and you have just enabled a Skype-based video-conference setup,

Pioneer also used this show to launch the N-30 and N-50 audio-focused network media adaptors which work with DLNA 1.5 and Airplay network-media setups and the vTuner Internet-radio directory. They can handle 24-bit 192-kHz WAV or FLAC high-grade audio files and are Wi-Fi / Bluetooth ready with optional modules. The N-50 can also work as a high-grade digital-analogue converter for a CD player or MiniDisc deck.

Cameras

Samsung, Sony and Toshiba had launched cameras that were capable of uploading images to cloud-based photo-sharing services without the need for a computer. In the case of Sony, their Bloggie Live and Bloggie Sports cameras were being pitched as an alternative to the smartphone’s camera for Internet work.

Toshiba also exhibited a 3D camcorder with a built-in glasses-free 3D LCD screen so you can preview your 3D images properly. As well, Polaroid demonstrated a smartphone-style digital camera with a “proper” optical zoom lens – something that could be considered a bridge between a smartphone or digital camera.

Personal Lifestyle

Appliances

This show still hasn’t become a North-American showground for domestic appliances in a similar vein to the Internationaler Funkaustellung in Berlin. But LG was using this show to promote their “SmarThing” range of network-connected “white goods” which could be monitored from a computer.

Of course, Samsung also demonstrated a washing machine and clothes dryer that used a colour LCD touchscreen but was able to be controlled via an app on a smartphone. This means that you could track your washing from your phone’s screen.

Home Automation and Security

There has been some activity on this front mainly in the form of network-hardware vendors offering IP-enabled surveillance cameras, with TRENDNet offering a lineup of 12 units with varying features.

Other than that, the “Next Learning Thermostat” which learns your heating / cooling settings through the day was premiered at this show. Belkin also premiered the WeeMo home-automation system which is effectively an appliance-control module that responds to your smartphone.

Personal Health Care

There has been some more effort in developing online personal-health-care equipment which interacts with your smartphone or home network.

Withings, previously known for their Wi-Fi-connected bathroom scales, have released a baby scales which also links with the same network enablement and online health-monitoring setup as these bathroom scales. Similarly iHealth have released a wireless body-fat scales along with a wireless blood-pressure monitor and a “Smart GlucoMeter” glucose sensor for your iOS device. As well, FitBits released the Aria Wi-Fi Scale which is bathroom scales that link to your home network and measure weight, body-mass index and body-fat percentage.

IP Telephony

There has been some activity concerning voice and video Internet-based telephony. This is primarily with Skype being part of most of the “big-name” smart TVs and able to be added on to existing TVs through the use of this year’s Panasonic 3D Blu-Ray players and home-theatre systems. But Samsung also launched a Skype HD videophone unit for TVs and Biscotti launched a similar device for their own service.

RCA had demonstrated their voice-based IP telephony systems for business use while Ooma launched a cordless VoIP phone which has a colour LCD screen and can sync to Facebook for “picture caller-ID” images. $10 a month with the Ooma service provides for conferencing, second-line service and advanced call forwarding.

Tomorrow, in the last of the series, I will be talking about the network technologies that are to link these devices to the home network and the Internet.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2012–Part 1

This year, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has achieved a record of 3100 exhibitors and has made an opening for newer technology companies. This is through the establishment of the “Eureka Park TrendZone” which had space for 94 of these startups.

For Microsoft, this year was their last appearance as an exhibitor and Paul Allen had given the last keynote speech for that company at the CES. They will simply work alongside their hardware and other software partners at further events.

Trends

The major trends have been taking place with the portable and mobile computing aspect of our lives. This is mainly in the form of more powerful smartphones and tablets as well as an increased number of Ultrabooks – small slim ultraportable computers that snap at the heels of the MacBook Air.

Technologies

Energy-efficient powerful processors

This show is being used to premiere NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 ARM processor, which is an improved processor for mobile devices. This is intended to allow for increased power and longer runtime for these devices. This processor isn’t just intended for the tablets but also for use in the car dashboard as has been demonstrated with the latest Tesla electric supercar.

As well, Intel were premiering their Ivy Bridge “classic” processors which are optimised for improved graphics while being energy efficient. These processors are intended for the upcoming generation of laptops including the Ultrabooks.

New operating environments for the regular computer

Microsoft were also demonstrating the Kinect gesture-driven user interface on the PC and this wasn’t just for gaming like its initial XBox 360 application was. They used this show to promote Windows 8 as being the next computer operating system for tablets and regular computers.

Bluetooth Smart and Bluetooth Smart Ready

It was also the year that Bluetoot 4.0 a.k.a. Bluetooth Smart was being promoted. This was a very low-power Bluetooth specification which made the technology work properly with sensor applications due to allowing these devices to run on a pair of AA batteries or a watch battery for many months.

Bluetooth Smart Ready devices could work with these Bluetooth Smart devices and permit them to work in an energy-conserving way. This has legitimised the Bluetooth technology in personal health and wellbeing applications, with this application class being premiered at this show.

Mobile Computing

One technology that is affecting this class of devices is the launch of LTE-based 4G wireless broadband in to most of the USA by many of the US mobile carriers. This is expected to allow for higher data throughput and bandwidth for the data-based services.

Smartphones and Multifunction Internet Devices

One major brand change that occurred over this show was Sony’s handheld-communications identity. This was previously known as Sony Ericsson but is now known simply as Sony Mobile Communications.

Here, Sony had launched the Xperia S Android phone and their first LTE-enabled phone inthe form of the Xperia Ion. These are also to be “PlayStation capable” which allows them to run Sony’s PlayStation games in the manner they are meant to be played. They also released the Walkman Z series which is Sony’s answer to the Apple iPod Touch and the Samsung Galaxy Player multifunction Internet devices.

Samsung had released their Galaxy S Blaze 4G which is their LTE-enabled iteration of their Galaxy S Android phones. LG also released some more of the Spectrum Android smartphones to the US market. Lenovo had launched the first Intel-powered Android smartphone in the form of the K800.

But, for the Windows Phone platform, the big announcement was Nokia’s Lumina 900 which was a Windows Phone equipped with a 4.3” AMOLED touchscreen. Was this a way for Nokia to claw back in to the multifunction smartphone category again?

Tablets

Here, this device class has become more powerful and capable, especially with the spectre of Windows 8 coming around the corner and a strong effort by all to unseat the iPad from its dominant position.

Toshiba had shown a 13” and a 7.7” prototype tablet but were exhibiting their 10.1” Android tablet/ As well, Coby were launching 5 ranges of 7” and 10” Android Ice-Cream-Sandwich-powered tablets with the maximum having 1Gb RAM and 32Gb expandable flash memory.

Acer had launched the Iconia A700 series 10” tablets with Tegra quad-core horsepower, 5Mp rear camera and HD front camera, and driven by Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

Asus had launched the Transformer Prime Mini 7” Android 4.0 comverrtible Android tablet which coudl be similar to the EeePad Memo. This Android Wi-Fi tablet was a 7.1” 3D-screen-equipped unit with 5Mp rear camera / 1.2Mp front camera, stylus and 64Gb flash storage.

Samsung had used this show to premiere the Galaxy Note to the US market and premiere the Galaxy Tab 7.7 LTE which was enabled for the 4G wireless broadband networks.

Sony had launched their S1 Android Homeycomb powered tablet. This one had a 9.4” screen and could work as an electronic picture frame or alarm clock; and was able to work with 4G LTE wireless broadband as well as Wi-Fi. Of course it would work with the DLNA Home Media Network and implemented an “off-centre-of-gravity” position for stability. They also showed the Tablet P clamshell tablet to the US market even though it was available in other markets. They weren’t sure if it would be launched in the carrier-controlled US market.

Regular computers

Ultrabooks and other “traveller” notebooks

This year had been a changing year for the lightweight “traveller” notebook computer. This class of computer had seen the tablet computer appear as a serious competitor and Intel had defined the “Ultrabook” as a new lightweight slimline class of portable hotspot-surfing computer.

ASUS and Lenovo had exhibited convertible Ultrabook computers which could become tablets, with Lenovo’s example known as the Ideapad Yoga which was powered with the Intel Ivy Bridge chipset.

Acer’s next Ultrabook is the Aspire S5. This was claimed to be the thinnest Ultrabook and had an 8 hour battery runtime. It also had a USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt peripheral connect for use with higher-capacity hard disks for example. LG also launched the XNote Z330 Ultrabook as did Toshiba with the Portege Z835 and HP with the 14” Envy Spectre Ultrabook.

Lenovo were exhibiting their IdeaPad U310 (13”) and U410 (14”) Ultrabooks with a choice of processors but with 4Gb RAM and a choice of 64Gb SSD or 500Gb regular hard disk. The 14” U410 variant was also available with 1Gb NVIDIA graphics.

Dell has jumped in to the Ultrabook bandwagon with the XPS 13. This had the standard spec set with an Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor, 4G on the RAM and a choice of 128Gb or 256Gb solid-state storage. The display is typically the 1366×768 resolution with Gorilla Glass screen as well as Bluetooth 3.0. Like the HP Folio 13 Ultrabook, this could be available in a “big-business package” with the business-security and customisation needs or as a regular consumer/small-business package.

Samsung launched their redesigned Series 9 ultrabooks with 13” amd 14” models. These were powered by a Core i5 processor and were equipped with 4Gb RAM and 500Gb hard disk as standard. The 13” variant had a 128Gb SSD as an alternative option.

Of course, the Ultrabook and the tablet had placed doubt on the viability of the 10”-11” netbook. But Lenovo was one of the few who had pushed on with a netbook in the form of the S200 and S206 series. These 11.6” units are available with an AMD or an Intel Atom chipset and  have 2Gb RAM and a choice of 32Gb SSD or 500Gb hard-disk secondary storage.

Laptops

Of course, the regular 15”-17” laptop has not been forgotten about with the calibre of these computers approaching “multimedia” specifications. Most of the 17” units had 1080p resolution and were equipped with Blu-Ray as a standard or option for their optical disks. The hard disks came in the order of 1Tb or, in some cases, 2Tb and system RAM was in the order of 8Gb.

For graphics, most of the laptops on the show floor had NVIDIA graphics chipsets with display memory of 1Gb to 2Gb and able to operate in dual-chipset “overdrive” mode. Samsung even exhibited the Series 7 “Gamer” which was pitched as a thoroughbred clamshell gaming rig.

In-car technology

This year was a chance for new upstarts to integrate the car with the Internet. MOG and Aha by HARMAN have increased their “Web-to-radio” footprint by integrating CBS Radio into their Web content aggregation lineup and partnering with Honda, Subaru, JVC and Kenwood to increase their equipment availability. This is in addition to improving the Aha iOS app and porting this same app to the Android platform this year.

Similarly, Parrot have extended their “Asteroid” Android-driven in-vehicle infotainment platform to three different devices – the Asteroid CK which yields telephony and audio content;, the Asteroid NAV which also provides GPS navigation and Internet access via Wi-Fi; and the Asteroid 2DIN whcih is effectively a car-radio replacement by having integrated AM/FM/RDS tuners.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the next instalment of the Consumer Electronics Show 2012 series which will cover the networked lifestyle at home.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2011–Part 3

Now we come to the issue of network-infrastructure equipment that will need to support the increasing demands placed on the home network by the previously-mentioned smartphones, tablet computers and Internet-enabled TVs.

Network Infrastructure

Network Connectivity

Some newer chipsets have appeared which will increase network bandwidth for the 802.11n Wi-Fi segment and the HomePlug AV segment. The current implementations may use manufacturer-specific implementations which won’t bode well with the standards.

The first new “call” is the 450Mbps 802.11n WPA2 WPS Wi-Fi segment which is being provided by most network makes for their midrange routers and access points. Access points and routers that work with this specification use three 802.11n radio streams to maintain the high throughput. The full bandwidth may be achieved if the client device is equipped with an 802.11n wireless network adaptor that supports the three streams but your existing devices may benefit due to reduced contention for the wireless bandwidth due to the access point / router offering three streams.

Most of the routers shown at the Consumer Electronics Show this year that support the 3-stream 450Mbps level for the 802.11n wireless network functionality also offered dual-band dual-radio operation to the same specification. Here, these devices could work on both the 2.4GHz band and the 5GHz band at this level of performance.

Some manufacturers were trying out the idea of a 60GHz high-bandwidth media network which may be based on a Wi-Fi (802.11 technology) or other proprietary scheme. This could lead to three-band multimedia routers and access points that use 2.4GHz and 5GHz for regular whole-home wireless networking and 60GHz for same-room wireless networking.

The second new “call” is the 500Mbps throughput being made available on high-end HomePlug AV devices. These powerline network devices may only achieve the high bandwidth on a segment consisting of the high-bandwidth devices that are based on the same chipset. Here, I would wait for the HomePlug AV2 standard to be fully ratified before you chase the 500Mbps bandwidth on your HomePlug segment. Of course, these devices can work with HomePlug AV segments.

The third new call is for midrange high-throughput routers to have Gigabit on the WAN (Internet) port as well as the LAN ports. This is more relevant nowadays as fibre-based next-generation broadband services are rolled out in most countries.

Everyone who exhibited network-infrastructure equipment offered at least one 450Mbps dual-band dual-radio router with Gigabit Ethernet on the WAN (Internet) connection as well as the wired-LAN connection. As well, most of these routers are equipped with circuitry that supports QoS when streaming media and some of them have a USB file-server function which can also provide media files to the DLNA Home Media Network.

Trendnet also offered an access point and a wireless client bridge that worked to this new level of 802.11n performance. They also demonstrated power-saving circuitry for Wi-Fi client devices which throttles back transmission power if the device is in the presence of a strong access point signal for their network. This was ostensibly to be “green” when it comes to AC-powered devices but would yield more real benefit for devices that have to run on battery power.

They also ran with the TPL-410AP which is a HomePlug AV Wireless-N multi-function access point. Another of those HomePlug access points that can “fill in the gap” on a wireless network or extend the Wi-Fi network out to the garage, barn or old caravan.

They also issued the TEW-656BRG 3G Mobile Wireless N Router, which is an 802.11n “MiFi router” that is powered by USB and works with most 3G / 4G modem sticks available in the USA. It is of a small design that allows it to be clipped on to a laptop’s lid or a small LCD monitor.

TP-Link had their 450Mbps three-stream dual-band dual-radio router with Gigabit on bot WAN and LAN Ethernet connections. As well they fielded a single-stream 150Mbps USB stick as the TL-WNT23N.

They also tried their hand with IP surveillance with the TL-SC4171G camera . This camera can do remote pan-tilt, and 10x digital zoom. It connects to the network via Ethernet or 802.11g Wi-Fi (not that much chop nowadays) and is equipped with an IR ring for night capture, as well as a microphone and speaker.

Netgear were more active with the 450Mbps three-stream routers with Gigabit LAN. Two of the models are broadband routers with Gigabit WAN, while one is an ADSL2 modem router which I think would serve the European and Australian markets more easily. The top-end model of the series has a USB file server function which works with the DLNA Home Media Network and also with Tivo “personal-TV devices”.

They also released the XAV5004 HomePlug AV switch which is the 500Mbps version of the their earlier “home-theatre” four-port HomePlug switch. Of course, they released the XAV2001 which is a compact “homeplug” adaptor which connects to the regular standards-based HomePlug AV segment.

They also have released the MBR1000 Mobile Broadband Router which works with 3G/4G wireless broadband or  Ethernet broadband. This unit is being provided “tuNrnkey” for Verizon’s new 4G LTE service.

Netgear have also fielded the VEVG3700 VDSL2/Gigabit Ethernet dual-WAN router with Gigabit Ethernet LAN, Cat-IQ DECT VoIP phone base station. This device, which is pitched at triple-play service providers also supports DLNA server functionality. As well, they also had a DECT VoIP kit available for these providers

As well, Netgear have tried their footsteps in to IP-surveillance for home and small business with a camera and an Android-driven screen for this purpose.

D-Link’s network hardware range include the three-stream 450Mbps routers with Gigabit WAN/LAN, a multifunction access point / repeater for the 802.11n network as well as a new DLNA-enabled network-attached storage range

As far as the MoCA TV-coaxial-cable network is concerned, Channel Master is the only company to release any network hardware for this “no-new-wires” network. It is in the form of a MoCA-Ethernet 4-port switch for the home theatre.

“Mi-Fi” wireless-broadband routers

Every one of the US cellular-telecommunications carriers are catching on to the 4G bandwagon not just with the smartphones and tablets but with the wireless-broadband routers.

Sprint have a unit for their WiMAX service while Verizon are fielding a Samsung LTE “Mi-Fi” as well as the aforementioned Netgear MBR1000 router.

Computer hardware and software

Monitors

Some of the companies who manufacture monitors are looking at the idea of “Internet-connected” monitors which have a basic Web browser in them so you don’t have to fire up a computer to view the Web.

CPU/GPU combo chips

These new processor chips combine a CPU which is a computer’s “brain” as well as the graphics processor which “draws” the user interface on to the screen. AMD and Intel were premiering the “Accelerated Processor Units” and the Core “Sandy Bridge” prcessors respectively at the CES this year.

Intel were trumpeting the fact that this technology could make it harder to pirate movie content but this is more about mainstream computing and small-form-factor hardware being behind this space and power saving processor hardware.

Sony had lodged a commitment to AMD to use the Zacate “Accelerated Processor Unit” in some of their VAIO laptops.

Other hardware

AMD haven’t forgotten the “performance computing” segment when it comes to processor chips and released the quad-core and 6-core “Phenom” desktop and gaming-rig CPUs.

Seagate have also made the “GoFlex” removable / dockable hard disks a standard by building alliances with third-parties to make hardware that works to this standard. Could this be another “VHS-style” alliance for dockable hard disks?

Microsoft also used this show to premiere their Touch Mouse which uses that same touch operation method as Apple’s Magic Mouse. Do I see an attempt for them to “snap at” Apple when it comes to “cool hardware” as well as software?

The Microsoft Platform

There has been some activity with the Microsoft Windows platforms now that set-top boxes and tablet computers are becoming the “order of the day”

One direction Microsoft is taking is to port the Windows Platform, which was primarily written for Intel-Architecture processors, to the Acorn ARM-architecture processors. The reason that this port is taking place is due to these energy-efficient RISC processors being commonly used in battery-driven applications like tablet computers. They are also popular with other dedicated multimedia devices like set-top boxes and TV applications.

As well, Microsoft will be working on a lightweight Windows build for TV applications like set-top boxes. This is although they have previously written Windows-CE builds for this class of device.

Microsoft also want to make a variant of the Windows Phone 7 for tablet computers and are starting work on the Windows 8 project.

Similarly, Somsung has demonstrated the second incarnation of the Microsoft Surface platform This one comes in a slimmer table-based form rather than a unit that is as thick as the 1980s-style “cocktail-table” arcade game machine.

Conclusion

The Consumer Electronics Show 2011 has certainly put the connected home on the map. This is due to affordable smartphones and tablet computers becoming more ubiquitous and Internet-provided video services becoming an increasing part of American home life.

It will be interesting to see what will happen for the other “pillar” of the consumer-electronics trade fair cycle – the Internationaler Funkaustellung; and how more prevalent the Internet TV, smartphone and tablet computer lifestyle will be in Europe and Asia.

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